We’ve all heard about PMS, but do you really know how the hormonal dance within affects your mood? Your menstrual cycle has four distinct phases, each brings its own set of strengths and weaknesses. In this article I’ll be walking you through all the different phases and explaining what happens biologically, and in turn how hormone changes affect things like mood, concentration, self-control and more. Learning menstrual cycle literacy is a powerful tool. As you are no longer fighting against your natural rhythm but rather actively working with it!
Learning menstrual cycle literacy can assist you in your personal development and everyday life.
When you start to track your period you start from the first day of bleeding, this is considered to be day one of your menstrual cycle. So we’ll start there!
Phase 1 — The Bleeding Phase : Day 1 to Day 5
Once your uterus has decided that yes indeed it is “redundant”, the hormone progesterone plunges, which causes the uterine lining to shed, AKA “your period”. Your brain and body’s levels of the three major hormones that control your cycle—estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone—are about as low and balanced as they’ll be. Your body will release a hormone-like compound called prostaglandin, this will make your uterus contract, and unfortunately make you cramp! Your immune system will also be lower during this phase. Your energy may feel low, feeling tired and withdrawn are all normal during this phase. Clear your calendar of big social events, your brain isn’t hardwired for it during this phase, and make a date with yourself. A hot Epsom salt bath is a great place to start. You might find that you are more sensitive, and perceptive of patterns, try writing in a journal and reflecting on the events of the past month. I find that having awareness of the body comes easily during this phase. Meditation and being grounded in my feet are easier to accomplish. This phase is all about rest and reflection.
Phase 2 — The Follicular Phase : Day 5 to Day 14
This phase follows just after menstruation. It’s called the Follicular phase because your pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which stimulates the follicles in your ovaries to mature, these follicles contain your eggs. Your estrogen levels in particular will skyrocket between now and just before you start ovulating in order to prepare your uterus for fertilisation. “Estrogen acts like fertilizer for brain cells.” That leads to a roughly 25 percent growth of synaptic connections in your hippocampus, which controls functions like your short-term memory and decision-making, oestrogen will also sharpen your verbal fluency. So you will be more energetic, social, flirtatious, and mentally sharp during this phase and you may even feel more assertive and willing to take risks. Additionally, testosterone also will start to rise during this phase, increasing your sex drive, but also boosting your sense of competition, which means you’re more likely to feel threatened by other women. Wether or not you realise it, you’re also more likely to wear extra makeup and “Notice me!” colours such as red. Why? You’re advertising that your fertile even if you’re not conscious of it. Even your sense of smell is affected. Peaking estrogen levels make your nose more attuned to pheromones. Estrogen’s are a big player when it comes to our behaviour! Brainstorming and problem solving will be major strengths during this phase so initiate new projects and make big decisions. Make use of those social superpowers by speaking up in meetings, joining a new social group and scheduling time with friends!
Phase 3 — The Ovulatory Phase: Day 14 to Day 25
An egg gets released from its follicle in your ovary and will survive for 12-24 hours. Estrogen and testosterone rise to peak levels, boosting the effects of the follicular phase. Once you’ve begun ovulating, your estrogen and testosterone stores plummet, and at the same time, levels of another hormone, progesterone, begin to rise. Progesterone is what keeps your uterus lining (the endometrium) ready for implantation in case there’s fertilization of the egg. If you were pregnant, the fertilized egg would trigger a continued release of progesterone. Progesterone acts on the same brain receptors as Valium, so it’s very calming. You may feel that you look better and feel more confident so it will be easier to verbalize your thoughts and feelings. Plus, your sex drive will be at its highest! This is a great time for job interviews, networking events and public speaking. Your energy levels are at their highest in this phase. At the same time, the frontal cortex, which typically manages your self-control, may power down, making you more impulsive.
Phase 4 — The Luteal Phase: Day 25 to 28
This is the dreaded week before your period! You will start to wind down, now is a good time for nesting (cleaning your room ) chores and taking care of your to-do lists. During this phase your progesterone and estrogen levels both plummet. The lack of those hormones causes an uptick in your brain’s levels of stress chemicals like cortisol, which further contribute to your bad vibes during PMS/PMT. You may take overthinking to a whole new level and stressors may affect you more. Your tolerance for pain also decreases. During this phase take extra care of your mental health and play extra attention to what’s bothering you, as this phase can be great at highlighting where changes need to be made.
Now you’ve learnt all about the different phases of your cycle, it’s time to take full advantage of those superpowers!
A fun way to incorporate the information in this article into your life is to print out this article, check your calendar or period tracker app on your phone and find out in which phase you are in currently. Then with each new phase in your cycle read the relevant information about that particular phase.
Please note; I use the word ‘woman’ in this article, but it in no way implies that this article is for those who identify as women only. This information is open to anyone regardless of whether you identify as female, or not, and whether you experience a menstrual cycle or not.